Through just four Detroit Lions training camp practices, rookie tight end Sam LaPorta has worked his way into a significant role with the first-team offense. The second-round pick out of Iowa is taking those reps and turning them into consistent playmaking every day.
"Yeah, I think as a coaching staff, we're very much, 'You need to earn your stripes.' And so you saw in the springtime, he got minimal work with the first team and he's earned the right now to be in that first team huddle with Jared (Goff) and that offensive line," Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of LaPorta on Wednesday.
"He's proven that over the course of the springtime and the work that he's put in. So, encouraged with where he's going. He's still making mistakes, he's still learning, we are putting a lot of pressure on him to pick it up, but I think he's in a really good spot for a first-year tight end, particularly with, like I said, the volume we are playing with the installs right now, so to see him be able to go out on the field and make plays, pass game and run game, I think we're headed the right direction."
After a day off Thursday the pads come on this weekend, and that's when the intensity and the learning curve will ramp up for a young tight end like LaPorta. He's on track to be an early and significant contributor for the Lions in 2023.
"It's great just to be in the huddle and hear the play call to be out there with the ones to get that opportunity," LaPorta said after practice Wednesday. "I believe it's speeding up the (learning) process and just how the game is slowing down for me."
There's so much LaPorta has to learn playing tight end from the route concepts to the protections and the run fits. It can be a lot. He said he dedicates about an hour every night to studying the playbook once he gets back to the hotel. It seems to be coming along pretty well, and the game certainly doesn't look too fast for LaPorta based on his consistent playmaking through the first four days of camp, and really dating back to the spring when he first got here.
Johnson said he can't wait until the pads come on and even more is put on his rookie tight end's plate to see how he responds.
"It's a position that, if you cannot block and deal with the physicality, then in all offenses, the value goes down," Johnson said. "Tight ends that can't block really are glorified receivers and that's really a lot of Sam's value that he had at Iowa was the ability to do both, be a pass catcher and also a run blocker. So, looking forward to seeing that versatility come to life when we do get the pads on."
ANSWERS TO PROBLEMS
The Lions' offense has looked steady and efficient to start camp. Their play was highlighted by Wednesday's practice when I had quarterback Jared Goff throwing just two incompletions all practice. It's like they've picked up where they left off last season, despite the fact they've worked in some new pieces and new components.
When asked about the difference a year can make, Johnson had a good line to explain the difference.
"It's now understanding the answers to the problems because every play call, defense (will) present problems and now we've got the solutions," he said. "We're a lot quicker getting to those solutions than what we were, so we have made a step forward."
View photos from Day 3 of Detroit Lions training camp on Tuesday July 25, 2023.
SUDFELD'S WORK ETHIC
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld knows veteran Teddy Bridgewater was in for a visit at Allen Park this week and that head coach Dan Campbell has been very open about adding competition to the roster.
But credit Sudfeld for putting his head down and just going to work. He's benefited from having a full offseason in the scheme and he's looked good. He said after practice Wednesday the important thing for him is just making the most of the tools he's been given. He's been very steady and consistent dating back to the spring, and that hasn't gone unnoticed by his offensive coordinator.
"Can't wait to see him in preseason games and function at a high level when the bullets are flying," Johnson said. "Right now, he – it feels like he's come out with great command, great control, he's throwing with accuracy, he's making good decisions and so him, as well as the rest of the guys, the consistency is what we're looking for. We can't have flash players and so for him, it's just building, stacking up good days one after another and he's been able to put a couple good ones back-to-back so far."
Sudfeld closed practice Wednesday by leading a two-minute situational period for the second-team offense that traveled 34 yards in just under a minute to set up a 45-yard field goal right before the half to win the drill.
- Rookie seventh-round pick wide receiver Antoine Green has worked his way into some first-team reps. The game is starting to slow down a little bit for him. "He's a 4.4 (seconds in 40-yard dash) guy, he needs to play 4.4 every single snap and when he does that – he shows an ability to get open," Johnson said.
- It was classy of Johnson to open his Wednesday press conference giving a shout out to all the significant others out there who are making sacrifices while their partners are away at training camp. Johnson's wife, Jessica, gave birth to the couple's third child just four weeks ago and no doubt has her hands full.